Contrary to popular belief, political parties are not democratic institutions.  They are extraconstitutional instruments of elite control, machines for corralling and pacifying the voters with platitudes.  The appearance of advertising, public relations, and polling has strengthened this aspect of their character.  This has particularly been the nature of the Republican Party, as should be evident to all with the fright and denial that Donald Trump’s insurgent candidacy has created among the elite.  Trump has raised real issues, upsetting the carefully designed principle-less consensus that had previously served to keep the elite in power.

If you doubt this, listen to the long-winded and evasive disquisitions spouted by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio whenever either is asked specific questions about the immigration crisis.

Democratic mythology has candidates for high office burning the midnight oil, thinking and praying over what is best for America and her people.  We know, although we do not fully admit to ourselves, that they are burning that oil plotting how they may best manipulate their way into the power, profits, and perks of office.  Do they ever give a moment’s thought or care about the people and their welfare?  To representing the public’s thinking except in a mere tactical sense?  (And don’t tell me about Lincoln, the most totally political man who was ever president, before Nixon and Clinton.)

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson may well have meditated into the early hours on principles and how best to serve the States United.  That type of thing ended long ago when Martin Van Buren became president without any clear principles and no accomplishments other than party building.  Van Buren had nationalized the operations of Aaron Burr’s Tammany Hall.  The Whigs (Republicans to be) went him one better in the next election (1840).  They lusted after a national banking cartel, a high tariff, and subsidies for business-friendly infrastructure.  They set aside Henry Clay, the leader known for this platform, and nominated an elderly military hero with no ideas.  To sweeten the campaign pot they chose as vice president John Tyler, representing a faction that was opposed to Van Buren for reasons entirely different from those of the party leaders.

There was no platform, just log cabins like the one Harrison supposedly lived in, coonskin caps that he supposedly wore, hard cider that he supposedly drank, and torchlight parades for “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”  (“Lincoln, the Rail-Splitter” was a reprise of this 20 years later.)  When the election was won, Clay immediately announced that the result was a mandate for Whig policies, which had barely been mentioned in the campaign before the people.  American politics has never been the same since.  Republican presidential candidates have almost always presented themselves with slogans testifying vaguely to their occupation of the respectable, lightly progressive middle.

Political party elites now control the public agenda and the electoral process, largely through mutually congenial laws.  The U.S. Constitution, however, was deliberately designed to avoid the self-interested strife of parties.  The Electoral College was supposed to be a gathering of wise, experienced, and patriotic men representing their states in the choice of a wise, experienced, and patriotic man to fill the office of chief magistrate for four years.  It was not required or assumed that all the electors of one state would express unanimity.  Indeed, in earlier elections they did not.

It is now possible to carry California with 50.01 percent of the vote and receive all of California’s electoral votes; or to get them with even less than a majority in a three-way race.  Thus, nearly half of the people are disfranchised in favor of a slate of party hacks chosen to express the will of the state, and office-seeking becomes a matter of mathematical strategy rather than principle.  This is not in the Constitution, though one wonders how many Americans assume that the Democrats and Republicans are established there.  The winner-take-all system is a mandate of law, agreed upon by the two parties to eliminate all influence except their own.

The antidemocratic nature of the parties becomes even more evident when we look at their internal structure, which has changed radically in the last few decades and which nobody except the party managers understands or had any role in creating.  The Democratic nominating conventions are now marked by an affirmative-action arrangement that defies real majority rule.  For the Republicans, who are at present divided among at least three significant candidates, the structural rules of the nominating proceeding become critical.  In the primaries held through March 14, the candidate with the biggest vote, though less than a majority, gets most of a state’s delegates, but in some states the rest are divided among the lower contenders.  This creates a large pool of delegates available for sale and manipulation, especially as they are generally considered free from their pledges after the first ballot.  (In primaries from March 15 on, the winner takes all.)

Where the party elite are united against the most popular candidate, arcane rules of counting may become a vital issue.  Why else talk of a “brokered convention,” meaning nothing else than a pre-emption of the popular will by a self-appointed and self-interested elite?